Friday, April 30, 2021

Book Review: Dial A for Aunties

By Jami Denison

As parents, we Generation Xers are the first cohort to be disparaged as being “helicopter parents” just because we did things like help our kids with their homework and sign them up for afterschool activities so they didn’t come home to an empty house like we did. But helicopter parents did not suddenly burst into being in the 1990s. For people who grew up in Jewish, Italian, Asian and other homes led by involved, overprotective mothers, the helicopters have been hovering for decades. 

And what’s wrong with that? 

In Jesse Q. Sutanto’s new book Dial A for Aunties (movie rights optioned by Netflix), Meddy Chan has made every life decision in deference to her mother and her mother’s three sisters—where to go to college, where to work, even to give up her college boyfriend rather than choosing him over them. The husbands have left; her male cousins moved across the country, but Meddy is a loyal daughter. Now a wedding photographer in the family business and perennially single, Meddy is chagrined to learn her mother impersonated her on a dating web site… and now she has to go on a date and pretend she’s been chatting with the guy. When she finds out he’s the owner of the resort hotel where they’re working a wedding that weekend, things perk up. Unfortunately, the guy’s a creep and when he drives Meddy down a deserted road, she tases him and he crashes the car. When Meddy wakes up, he’s dead. Convinced the police will never believe he attacked her, she drives home with the body in the trunk and asks her family for help. 

The aunties get right to it. They stash the body in a cooler, planning to deal with it after that weekend’s wedding of the century. But the cooler ends up going to the wedding with them. Now they have to dispose of the body while dealing with the over-the-top bride and groom and their families, friends, and attendants. And the icing on the cake—Meddy’s murder victim wasn’t the hotel owner after all. The real owner is Meddy’s old college boyfriend, Nathan—and the spark is still between them.

Dial A for Aunties is a hoot, a mash-up of Crazy Rich Asians and Weekend at Bernies.  Meddy is an adorable heroine, loyal to her mother and aunts even while the women compete to be recognized as the most clever in the family. It’s a fast-paced, high-energy romp where anything that can go wrong does go wrong. At the same time, Meddy is the link between the reader and the rich (in both ways) culture of Americans with an Indo-Chinese background. Her warmth, loyalty, and commitment to doing a good job shine through even while the dead body of her murder victim seems to follow her wherever she goes. 

The book’s not perfect—things wrapped up a little too easily at the end, and Nathan is too good to be true – but these complaints are like saying the icing on the wedding cake is too sweet. Dial A for Aunties will appeal to a wide range of fans, from Stephanie Plum die-hards to lovers of Hallmark movies. 

For helicopter moms like me, though, it demonstrates exactly why it’s a bad idea to impersonate your adult child on dating sites. Even if it seems like you’re never going to get grandchildren. Even though you spent your entire adult life… you gave up … !!! 

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Jesse Q. Sutanto:

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